formal causation

Lois Shawver (
Wed, 27 Mar 1996 01:03:49 -0800 (PST)


Thanks for personally forwarding me the note you had previously
written in response to my own. It's hard to track all these notes flying
back and forth and I must have deleted your note and so I was waiting for
yours and you for mine.

But I think your note is helpful. It tells me that you are using the
term "formal cause" in a very Aristotelean way. We are not talking about
the kind of causes that we typically talk about in vernacular English.
Right? Which, as you say, are what Aristotle called "efficient causes".
It is easy to get confused here, though, don't you think? So I presume
you try to be careful, and you do this in part by continuously repeating
"formal" as you talk of causes. I think that's good that you do that.

The problem of "causes", however, as you know, is not restricted to the
kind of study you design. In a regression equation we usually think of
the predictor variables as [efficient] causes of a dependent variable. As
you have pointed out, there is often some conceptual slippage in doing
that, at least if we are thinking of "cause" on the model of the brick
going through the window and "causing" the window to break.

For example, come November, if we used as party-affiliation (Democrat
vs. Republican) as a predictor variable, I'm sure we would find that it
"predicted" who people voted for, but being republican doesn't "cause"
one to vote republican in the sense of a brick going through a window.
Sometimes people cross party-lines. Sometimes they don't vote. But more
importantly, we don't think party-affiliation is the simple, efficient
cause of voting Republican. It just predicts it. And a little reflection
shows that much of what we psychologists call causes breaks down like this
under scrutiny.

But you, are not intending to talk about what causes what to happen.
You are talking about trying to discern the inner that shapes the way
people think and perceive. if I'm reading you right, have a vision of how
to fit the parts together from your reading of the grid analysis to
construct these inner schema, category systems that allow people to
perceive the world as they do. But are you always careful to avoid saying
that these inner constructs compel the behavior (such as death threats) as
simple efficient causes?

I'll try to get to the rest of this note in a day or so. I think you
have two notes from me at this point.

..Lois Shawver